Monday, July 31, 2017

8 Months After My Mom Died, My Dad Got Engaged. But I'm Not Done Grieving.

It was 3 weeks after my mom had passed, and my dad and I sat in a burger joint after a date at the movies.  The pain of loss was severe and nauseating.  (My eyes fill with tears as I sit here writing, just remembering back.)  "Do you think you'll ever date or re-marry?" I asked my dad as we shared sweet potato fries.  Our family has always been an open book.  We ask honest questions and give honest answers.  He said he didn't know.  He didn't know if he wanted to live alone, but he also didn't know if he could love again and risk going through pain like that again. Time would tell.
The conversations about grieving, healing and the future continued many times over between my dad, and sisters and I in the weeks and months that followed.  My dad was well into his grief journey and he processed it as an open book.

You see, almost 5 years prior, my mom had been diagnosed with FTD -  a brain disease that robbed us of her, far before she actually passed.  She had become the equivalent of a 1 year old, and my dad spent those years selflessly caring for his High School sweetheart with tender grace.  The grieving process had been going on for almost 5 long years. 
"This next season will not be about trying to fill the holes that now remain with mom gone. Those holes can never be filled.   It is about writing a new chapter moving forward, whatever that may be."  My daddy is so wise.  

And then it happened.  It was 9:30pm on a Sunday night and my dad texted my sisters and I.  

Daddy got all 3 of us girls on the phone at the same time, and told us that after church, he was praying with someone who had come forward for prayer and there was this other woman, "Pam" who was also praying with someone.  When they both finished praying and were walking out to the parking lot, my dad mentioned he was going to grab a quick lunch and asked if Pam wanted to come.  He then told us all about their lunch and their conversation... and us girls giggled and teased and asked probing questions.  "Are you entering the dating scene??  Do you want us to start setting you up?"  "NO. WAY."  My dad laughed. "I haven't dated since I was 16 years old and I have no desire to jump into that scene.  But, I will say this: I do want to get to know Pam more.   I only want to get to know her.  That's it."  

And so it continued.  Lunches after church.  Texts and emails.  We coached him on asking her out on an official "first date" and grilled him on what he would wear and where they would go.  :)  We got to meet Pam casually all together.. then individually as families.  Each step of the way, my dad would check in and ask, "How do you guys feel?  Do you see any red flags?  I don't even see a yellow flag but your insight matters to me."  With each date, each conversation, each phone call and text, my dad grew a bigger and bigger spring in his step.  A lightness in his voice. A joy restored.  A heart healed.  And each interaction between us and Pam confirmed what my dad had already discovered.  Pam is a gem.  When you ask her about her relationship with my dad, she humbly gives credit to the Lord.  When you bring up my mom, she weeps as she gushes about how wonderful my mom was.  When you mention my dad's name, she lights up just as bright as he does when you mention hers.  

But here's the thing:  I'm not done grieving the loss of my mom.  My mom has only been gone 8 1/2 months.  She was my best friend. My first call.  My biggest cheerleader. My ministry partner.  And I'm not done grieving.  I actually don't think I'll ever not grieve the loss of her.  She was beyond amazing.  And I hate that I have to wife and parent and minister without her.  I hate that my kids won't have her direct influence on their lives... That my 2 Littles won't have any memories of her at all.  

But here's the other thing: Making my dad stay single won't bring my mom back.  

Sounds obvious, right? But don't think it didn't cross my mind.  Maybe if he stayed single, it would preserve my mom's memory more.  Maybe if he stayed single, it would show how dedicated he was to her.  So silly.  My dad cared for my mom and loved her with every ounce of his heart until her final breath.   I have never EVER seen a more selfless and sacrificial love in my life.  The reality is, studies show that men who really loved marriage and were truly happily married, end up re-marrying quickly after the loss of a spouse.  

And so I grieve her. 
And I celebrate with him.
At the same time.

I am 100% still grieving the loss of my mom AND 100% thrilled that my dad will not be alone and that the Lord has given him the gift of Pam.  

I used to think there was one box to live in, per situation.  Like, my workplace is "frustrating." My kids are "exhausting." My friends are "fun."  One emotion per item on the list.  And yet in this season, I have found that I can feel 2 very different emotions at the exact same time, about the same situation.  Grief and joy.  Co-exisitng together.  At the same time.  And not competing with each other, but rather complimenting each other.  This co-mingling of emotions help me to feel whole and true to my experience.  I don't have to stuff Grief down to embrace Joy. And I don't have to release Joy in order to enter Grief.  They are both at the surface.  Close to my heart.  And deep in my soul.  

So when my dad decided he wanted to propose to Pam last week, just 8 months after my mom passed, my sisters and I jumped to clear our schedules.  We wouldn't miss it for the world.  Because seeing my dad's broken heart become healed, is a beautiful gift.  And because healing on God's timeline and not our own, brings peace.  And because the truth is, my grief doesn't restrict my ability to Joy.  

So last Monday, my daddy took Pam to dinner on Coronado Island...

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And then he took her on a Gondola Ride... and asked her to marry him.  

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And after the engagement, we had a surprise party for them, where they told their love story.  

And this picture says it all.  

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Renewed joy.  Healed heart.  Story Redeemed.  

Not in the absence of grief, but in it's presence!
How beautifully complex the grace of God is.  
Multifaceted and diverse in its expression.

"Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.
Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me."  

Welcome to the family, Pam. We truly love you.  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Is Mother's Day for Me? Or is it for my Mom and Mother-in-Law? Who Gets Mother's Day??

"Is Mother's Day for me?  Or is it for my Mom and my Mother-in-Law?
This common question, often heard circling around neighborhood parks, Chick-fil-A play areas, and online forums is a definite hot button for most young moms.  Who actually gets Mother's Day?  Certainly my Mother-in-Law was celebrated in her day.  And I sure as heck know my mom got all the breakfast-in-bed she could handle when I was little.  So isn't Mother's Day finally mine??  Haven't I paid my dues?  I mean, I haven't washed my hair in 4 days or gotten a full nights sleep in 4 years.  For the love of all things holy, just give me a mere 24 hours!

Here's the deal.
You're right.  You should be celebrated.
So should she.

We are now in this Sisterhood... together.  I'm 12 years in, she's 38 years in.  She looks back on the good 'ol days... and I'm in the midst of living them.  Same journey, different stage.  They say you never stop being a mom.  Clearly, it changes.  But the undying, sacrificial, I'd stand in front of a train for you kind of love?  Never ends.

Now I don't know whether it matters which day you celebrate.  Saturday?  Sunday?  Next week?  There's not a one size fits all.  Just don't get so lost in yourself that you forget those who went before you.

So why, as a young mom to 4 young kids, do I feel so passionate about it?

Because this.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my mom (and sisters) and me a few years ago.  My mom... My best friend.  Type A.  Energetic.  Hilarious.  Life of the party.  My "first call."  My biggest cheerleader.  The ultimate in #momgoals.

And this is my mom and me on Mother's Day last year....

Shortly after turning 60 years young, a brain disease began to attack my mom's brain and her body.  At the time of this picture, she was unable to speak, barely able to walk, and was functioning at the equivalence of a 1 year old.

Almost 6 months to the day after this picture was taken, I sat by my mom's bed and watched my best friend take her last breath.  I cannot describe the excruciating pain of that moment.

What I wouldn't give to spend one more Mother's Day with her, lavishing her with my time and giving her more eskimo kisses.

So do I want to sleep in?  Desperately.  Do I want a day of pampering?  You better believe it.  But not under the banner of neglecting the ones who went before me.  The ones who mentored me and showed me.  Who cheer me on and fill in the gaps.  I don't regret one Mother's Day spent with my Mom and my Mother-in-Law.  Do I change a diaper on that day?  Nope.  Do I cut the kids food and take them potty?  Nope.  My husband still gives me a day off from "mom-ing" the regular stuff.  And then he schedules a spa day for me every year -  on a day shortly after Mother's Day... so I can get that much needed day off I so desire.   A day that's all mine.

But Mother's Day?  That day I gladly share.  Because you never know.  You never know how many more you have with yours.  And with his.  Life is precious.  Moms are precious.

So have your day.  But make sure they have theirs too.
Because us moms - All of us - are worth celebrating.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What Every Mother Wants on Mother's Day...

"Give her the day off."
"Do something active as a family."
"Send her to the spa."
"Don't send her to the spa, it's too crowded on Mother's Day at the spa."

The messages are loud and clear.  No, I take that back. The messages are loud and seriously confusing.  Every article says something different.  Every blog has a different formula.  Just yesterday, I read a Facebook post that said, "Men, don't let your wife get off the couch on Mother's Day."  And directly underneath it was another Facebook post that said, "I find it seriously insulting that people think Mother's Day is about doing nothing.  I want to go on a rigorous hike with my kids on Mother's Day."  It's no wonder men approach this day with fear and trembling.  They don't know how to "win."  They want to win.  They do.  But every idea seems as good as the next and at the same time, as horrible as the next.  Helping the kids make a home cooked meal for your wife could be a huge win.  Or she could be irritated that there's now a mess in the kitchen.  Having the kids serve her breakfast in bed could really win her heart.  Or it could make her seriously frustrated that she didn't get to sleep in longer.

Men, do you want to know what every wife wants on Mother's Day?  I know I just said there is not a  one-size-fits-all formula for pleasing every mom.  But this?  I promise this is what we all want:

To be known.

That's it.  It's that simple.  Know her.  Like, really know her.  Be a student of your wife.  Know that your wife really wants to run a family 5K on Mother's Day.  Or that she wants to sleep until 11.  Know that she actually hates that big, fancy brunch and she'd rather eat a breakfast burrito from a yummy hole-in-the-wall joint.   Not every mom wants the same thing.  So know YOUR wife and love her how SHE desires to be loved.

And if you still don't know or can't figure it out?


Seriously.  Just ask.  Not in a, "Hey, so it's almost Mother's Day and I was wondering what you had planned?" kind of way.  But in a, "Hey babe, Mother's Day is almost here and I want that day to be a celebration of who you are and all you do.  I want you to feel loved and cared for.  How can the kids and I honor you best on that day?"  Ask it with love and with genuine interest.  I know it's only a few days away.  The lie you may believe is that it's too late.  It's not.

Now moms, this is where our role comes in.  If your husband asks you what you desire to do on Mother's Day, be gracious.  Take it as a sign that he cares.  Closing the gap between expectations and reality is a daunting journey.  If your husband is willing to make the effort to close that gap, then receive it as an act of love.  Don't belittle him for not knowing.  Your relationship is a journey and whether he has you figured out already or he is intentionally continuing to seek you out, it's beautiful.   It's all beautiful.

And Moms, in just 5 short weeks, we get the opportunity to return the favor on Father's Day.  So as this weekend unfolds, be gracious.  And thankful.  Seek to know and be known.  And if it all falls flat?  Choose grace.  :)

OK, one more thing.  I think this is important to clarify:   I understand that Mother's Day is supposed to be a day where Moms are celebrated by their CHILDREN.  Many dads get to Mother's Day feeling frustrated that any expectation is on them at all.  Some feel that their only job is to wish their own mom "Happy Mother's Day."  But the reality is, Dads bare the responsibility of teaching the kids how to celebrate mom well.  Dads get to teach and train and guide and direct.  "Hey kids!  Shhh!!! Let's be super duper quiet this morning so mom can sleep in! She works so hard caring for us, let's give her a day to rest."  or "Hey kids!  You know how mom loves to be active?  Let's plan an adventure for mommy together!"  Teach them what it looks like to be a student of someone and to love them in their love language.  You are raising future husbands and wives and mommies and daddies.  You are raising future best friends and bosses.  Celebrating WELL has become a lost art.  You get to help shape their hearts toward seeing the good in another human being and honoring who that person is in your life.   It's a life skill they will take with them the rest of their lives.  Lean in and enjoy the privilege of impacting the next generation!